Christmas on Mars: A surrealist, sci-fi holiday movie to blow your mind

posted 5/26/2009 on 2009: A Blog Odyssey

I can’t say I’m the longest-running Flaming Lips fan.

The first time I ever really heard of them was in 2002, when I visited Virgin Megastore on the Magnificent Mile (a location that is now closed, right?) and randomly sampled Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots at a listening station. (Of course, I’d heard “She Don’t Use Jelly” on radio repeat, but didn’t really know the band that made it). It was love at first listen: the catchy melodies, the weird sound effects, the spaced-out lyrics and singing style of frontman Wayne Coyne, the utter devotion to all things robotic and extra-terrestrial.

I became addicted to their music and was psyched about the release of At War with the Mystics in 2006. That was pretty sweet too, though not quite the masterpiece Yoshimi was. Seeing them at Lollapalooza that year really sealed the deal for me, as far as my diehard fandom goes. Now with the long wait for a new release (which will be their twelfth album), at least Coyne and friends have given us a delightfully bizarre feature film to tide us over.

And by the way — going back to the Blockbuster Total Access Saga — I decided to pick this up at That’s Rentertainment. Might as well support the business while I’m still in town. I’ll probably end up subscribing to Netflix in July, once I move home.


THE FILM

Where to start? To be honest, having just watched the film, I feel like my mind was just molested mercilessly by an alien probe. But in a good way, because I’m about to watch it again.

Basically it’s an ode to old-school sci-fi movies, holiday movies, and surrealist film all rolled into one. You’ve got these people (mostly white males) living on Mars, separated from the desolate emptiness of space by a space station full of macabre beep-booping machines and feeling none too good about it.

In fact, one dude — the guy who happened to be wearing a Santa Claus costume (you know, because it’s Christmas Eve and everyone could use a little bit of hope and humanity in their lives) — freaks out and commits suicide after seeing horrific hallucinations. An alien (a green, mute Coyne) appears just in time to make things even weirder, and one man figures, what the hell, why not strip the Santa outfit from the dead guy and let the Martian wear it?

No, there aren’t rockin Flaming Lips tunes accompanying the trippy imagery. So don’t rent this expecting to hear your favorite FL songs put to cinema. They choose instead to use atmospheric music to fit the emotion of each particular scene (one of the bandmates cites the work of Bernard Hermann as an influence).

Don’t expect fantastic acting either. That’s kind of the point. Like the 50s sci-fi fare it mimics, the performances are often cheesy and amateurish, and that’s OK. This isn’t meant to be a “good movie” in the traditional sense but a gleeful (though sometimes disturbing) work of experimental filmmaking.

What it really boils down to: it is what it is, and you really just need to see it. That is, if you have a weird sense of humor and a will to piece together your own interpretation of abstract art. Or you could just let the flood of oddities wash over you.

Rent it now, and — if you can hold a mental note for that long — rent it during the holidays, too. I say this because the ending has a surprising emotional power to it, like It’s a Wonderful Life on acid.


SWEET QUOTES

“Cosmic reality: yeah, it’s a motherfucker.”

“I just saw a guy in a Santa suit run out the number one hatch.”

“You look like something that crawled out of Godzilla’s asshole.”

“His mind conjured a fucking marching band. A marching band out of Hitler’s fucking high school, playing a death march, only this marching band doesn’t have heads with faces. This marching band, their heads are giant genitals. Giant female genitals . . . So that’s nice for everybody.”


SPECIAL FEATURES

  • An 11-minute making-of featurette entitled “Inside Wayne’s Endless Yellow Notepad.” Coyne reveals the conception of Christmas on Mars: an alien he drew for a 1997 Christmas card. After some encouragement, this character became the launching point a series of storyboards he drew partially on hotel stationery in London. Much of the film, he says, stays true to those original sketches.
  • Interviews with the four band members (all of whom assumed acting roles). Steven discusses his former heroin addiction and its effects on musical creation. Michael recalls how the band recorded zoo animals to use as sound effects. Kliph admits to having anxiety attacks and frets about the Flaming Lips’ rumored gig on the International Space Station. Wayne tells about the group’s on-again, off-again film production that lasted seven years.

STATS
  • Unrated on RottenTomatoes (only four reviews listed: two positive, two negative)
  • Running time: 83 minutes
  • Unrated (DVD & CD box says “Parental Advisory”)

COMING TO A BLOG NEAR YOU


Not sure about the specific movie, but I want to pick up something classic that everyone should see but most people (college-aged people, anyway) haven’t. Something to add to your summer movie-watching list.

Stay tuned to find out.